2B ROBINSON CANO
The best player on the planet’s best-known baseball team, Cano largely goes unnoticed … unless, of course, he’s choosing participants for the home run derby at the All-Star Game and ticking off an entire city.
Be that as it may, he is the game’s hottest hitter right now and he has a postseason pedigree that really started to take shape the past two seasons. In 14 playoff games combined following the 2010 and ’11 campaigns, Cano hit .333 (19-for-57) with six homers, 15 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
This guy, clearly, enjoys the limelight. With Baltimore bearing down on the Yankees during the stretch drive, Cano merely carried New York to the AL East title. In the last nine games of the regular season, he hit .615 (24-for-39) with three homers, 14 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Overall, he hit .313 with 33 homers, 94 RBIs and 105 runs scored in 2012.
RHP TIM LINCECUM
“The Freak” has been in a year-long funk, but he presents an interesting dilemma: should he right himself, just how good can the Giants be?
With 16-game winners Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner expected to head the rotation in the postseason, San Francisco figures to be in good shape. It has a decent offense, too, with MVP candidate Buster Posey leading the way.
But if Lincecum finds the form, or even something close to it, that made him the scourge of the NL in winning back-to-back Cy Youngs in 2008 and ’09, the Giants might be looking at their second title in three seasons.
The slender right-hander went just 10-15 this season, posting a career-worst 5.18 ERA in the process. But he hasn’t lost everything, as 190 strikeouts in 186 innings will attest.
He did win his first three starts in September, before taking a loss and a no-decision to close out the regular season. He also has some postseason “cred,” having gone 4-1 and registering a 2.43 ERA in helping San Francisco to that championship in 2010.
1B JOEY VOTTO
The former MVP missed 51 games this season, but he remains a potent option for Cincinnati. The guy is always on base, as evidenced by his Barry Bonds-esque OBP of .474.
In 374 at-bats this year, Votta poked 14 homers, drove in 56 runs and scored 59 while batting a robust .337 – which would have led the NL had he had enough at-bats. Though the Reds fared well without him for a long stretch in 2012, they clearly are more dangerous with him in the lineup – which should bode well for their chances in the best-of-five Divisional Series with San Francisco.
The Reds have other solid options on offense, with 34-homer guy Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips and a rejuvenated Ryan Ludwig, who swatted 26 homers in just 422 at-bats. They also have Cy Young candidate Johny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA) and 14-game winner Mat Latos giving Cincinnati a strong 1-2 starting pitching duo, not to mention flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman coming out of the bullpen.
But Votto is the one player who could drive the Reds deep into the playoffs – going off potential shown in regular-season play.
RHP JUSTIN VERLANDER
With apologies to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who just can’t seem to get any respect, considering all the hullabaloo with the national media pumping up Angels rookie Mike Trout for AL MVP honors and now this … but, the nod has to go to the game’s most dominant pitcher.
Yeah, Verlander won’t repeat as the league’s Cy Young winner. That honor likely will go to Rays lefty David Price or Angels righty Jered Weaver, both of whom won 20 games. But there is little doubt who most would choose to run out to the hill if an entire season depended on it, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland is the one lucky enough to have that option at his disposal.
In 33 starts this season, the 6-5, 225-pound righty posted a 17-8 mark with a 2.64 ERA and a major-league best 239 strikeouts. With stupefying, eye-popping stuff and an intensity to match, Verlander gives Detroit what would appear to the ultimate ace in the hole.
Considering how hot Oakland is, the Tigers will need it, and need it to play just right Saturday if it hopes to advance beyond the team’s best-of-five AL Division Series.
LF YOENIS CESPEDES
Fellow outfielder Josh Reddick probably is the better known quantity on a no-name team, but Cespedes is the A’s best performer, hands down. In 487 at-bats, he hit a team-best .292, homered 23 times, knocked in 82 runs and scored 70. For good measure he threw in 16 stolen bases.
Though not exactly “smokin’” down the stretch, he did hit .308 with three homers, nine RBIs and six runs scored in Oakland’s final 10 games as it overtook Texas and pretty much stunned all of baseball by capturing the AL West title.
A 26-year-old rookie, the Cuban native symbolizes what the A’s are all about: production without any pretense. Indeed, no one knows who any of these guys are. No one on the pitching staff stands out, although Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone each can boast 13 wins. Reliever Grant Balfour has been around and been decent, but he’s hardly a revelation.
Reddick managed to hit 32 homers, scoring 85 runs and knocking in the same amount. But he also batted just .242.